Thursday, November 1, 2018

On Destiny's Unfortunate Support for Pro-Abortion Politicians [Clinton Wilcox]

Yesterday, Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists, wrote an opinion piece for Dallas News entitled, "I'm pro-life and I voted for Beto O'Rourke because I'm done being used by the GOP". To put it mildly, Destiny's article is poorly reasoned. I would expect this kind of article from someone like Rachel Held Evans, not from someone who wants to be known as a pro-life leader. In short, "The GOP uses us, therefore we should support the pro-abortion Democrats" is, of course, a non-sequitur, mixed with a false dichotomy. There are more than two parties one can support, and there are other pro-life parties one can support if one is fed up with the GOP (rightly or wrongly; it's not my intention to enter into this debate here). Before I begin, I want to point out that I sympathize with Destiny's frustration at legalized abortion having gone on for so long. And I'm going to be a bit harsh in this article (and I'll try to do it as nicely as possible). But this must be done, since Destiny's article is likely to mislead a number of pro-life people into voting for a pro-abortion candidate for U.S. Senate.

In case you aren't aware, Beto O'Rourke (D) is running against former presidential candidate and current senate incumbent Ted Cruz (R) for Texas U.S. senator. As you might imagine, Cruz is against abortion in all cases except when the mother's life is in danger, and believes in defunding Planned Parenthood. O'Rourke, on the other hand, is strongly pro-abortion. I tried looking for what his exact views on abortion are but have come up empty. My google-fu is apparently not strong enough. However, on his campaign website, under "women's health" in issues, it has the following: "Ensuring that a woman's right to choose is not compromised by limited access to safe and legal abortion services or family planning help." That, combined with the fact that in 2017, he voted against the 20-week abortion ban on the grounds that it would endanger the life and health of women (which, of course, is false since most late-term abortions done are not medically necessary), lead me to conclude that O'Rourke supports late-term abortion at least until the point of birth, since he opposes limiting access to "safe and legal abortion services". As such, if you are pro-life in Texas, it seems pretty clear which is the preferred candidate.

Unfortunately, Destiny disagrees. So now let's dig into her article and see how her case for a pro-life vote for O'Rourke is so weak.

She starts her article off with a pretty bizarre statement: she broke the "golden rule" of the pro-life movement, which is to vote Republican. Of course, this isn't the golden rule of the pro-life movement. If there is a golden rule, it's to vote pro-life, not vote Republican. Pro-life people are not tied to the Republican party. If the Democrat party had a pro-life platform and the Republicans ran on a pro-abortion platform, the pro-life movement would be voting Democrat. It's the pro-life platform pro-life people cling to, not the color red. Perhaps Destiny doesn't understand the pro-life movement as well as she thinks she does. But this alleged tie will be a recurring theme in Destiny's article.

Next she talks about how she voted for people who had other views she found detestable, such as bombing other countries or taking children away from their families. Of course, these two statements are very much simplified and I'm not really interested in cashing them out. But needless to say, actions taken in wartime are not comparable to abortion (as war can be permissible but abortion is rarely permissible), and the situation of illegal immigration and taking children away from their parents is much more complicated than there being simply a nefarious mustache-twirling villain sitting in the Oval Office, wanting to tear children from the grasp of their parents.

She states that she's a "consistent life ethicist", meaning that she opposes "all forms of violence against other human beings". Now, I've been a pretty vocal critic of the "consistent life ethic" for some time. It's really just a way for some pro-life people to feel morally superior to other pro-life people. It's just a more sophisticated form of saying "I'm more pro-life than you." Again, I'm not really intending to debate the merits or lack thereof of this idea. But it seems pretty hollow when we consider that she voted for O'Rourke. If she really opposes all forms of violence against other human beings, why would she vote for someone who openly opposes any restrictions on abortion instead of Ted Cruz, a man who actually has a pretty good track record of pro-life votes? Just this year, Ted Cruz backed an amendment which would have defunded Planned Parenthood in Texas (the measure lost, unfortunately). In fact, political scientist Alan Abramowitz has said publicly that Cruz's positions are on the far right, even further to the right than conservative leaders like Reagan and Gingrich, and Cruz is among the 2 or 3 most consistently conservative voices in the senate. And Destiny, the "consistent life ethicist", thought O'Rourke would be a better choice.

Once Beto O'Rourke entered the race, though, he apparently charmed her enough to win her support. He wanted to "work with Republicans and independents", and "find common-ground solutions" we can all get behind on nonpartisan issues. Of course, abortion being a partisan issue, one wonders why this would win Destiny's support, especially when friend after friend warned her about O'Rourke and his many attempts to stop common-sense restrictions on abortion, which she apparently turned a blind eye to. And her rationale for turning a blind eye to this? Because her organization, New Wave Feminists, is not just a pro-life organization, but a feminist one, and Trump has made public declarations that paint him as a pretty sexist guy. But again, one wonders why this would lead her to vote for O'Rourke. Cruz is not Trump. Cruz is Cruz. And even if Cruz was a sexist in the same vein as Trump allegedly is, this should lead someone concerned about such matters to not vote. Or apparently she believes that dehumanizing unborn children is more justifiable than dehumanizing women. Or perhaps it just hasn't exactly sunk in for Destiny that unborn children really are full persons deserving of full moral respect (I have spoken to pro-life people like this, who pay lip service to fetal personhood but don't act as if they really believe it). No matter which it is, her decision to vote for O'Rourke is disappointing.

Destiny relies on a red herring in her article. She doesn't have any dirt on Cruz, so she spends an inordinate amount of time talking about Trump, which has nothing to do with whether or not Cruz will be a good conservative voice in the Senate. And while it's true that President Trump so far has not kept his campaign promise to defund Planned Parenthood, and Republicans have, in the past, failed pretty spectacularly to vote in a way consistent with their alleged pro-life views, what Destiny also fails to consider is that there are many pro-life laws that have been passed in many states, such as mandatory waiting periods and parental notification laws, which have been shown to reduce the incidences of abortion. Do you think someone like O'Rourke will support these laws? He doesn't believe in abortion restrictions, so it doesn't seem he would. With pro-life legislators, it is easier to pass these pro-life laws. Pro-choice legislators will make passing these laws extremely more difficult.

Continuing her red herring, she moves on to Kavanaugh. Susan Collins, she reminds us, voted yes for Kavanaugh's confirmation because he assured her that Roe is "settled law". Whether or not this is true has no basis on whether or not she should vote for Cruz over O'Rourke.

Destiny goes on to tell us that we have to create a post-Roe culture while Roe still stands in order to eradicate abortion from our culture. But this is simply a pipe dream. Abortion will never completely go away, even if it's made illegal. Again, one wonders just exactly what Destiny expects of the pro-life movement. With 2,752 locations across the U.S., pregnancy care centers significantly outnumber abortion businesses, to say nothing of the number of churches in the United States who would be willing to help a woman or couple in a crisis pregnancy. The resources are there for any pregnant woman who wants them. I don't know anyone who thinks that we should only make abortion illegal and stop there. Every pro-life advocate I know, including the leaders, agree that pregnancy care centers provide valuable services. But to claim that we should make a post-Roe culture before outlawing Roe is simply misguided and foolish. In fact, none other than moral reformer Martin Luther King, Jr., would disagree with her.
Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government. [1]
In fact, New Wave Feminists does not have a monopoly on wanting to make abortion unthinkable. Justice for All was working toward making abortion unthinkable long before New Wave Feminists ever came around. One can work toward making abortion unthinkable while also working toward making it illegal, and we should because killing an innocent human being should be punished, and especially prevented.

Destiny mentions that she does not believe O'Rourke, like most pro-choice people, is really "pro-abortion". He is "pro-choice" and just believes abortion to be a "necessary evil." This might make it easier for Destiny to sleep at night, but there is evidence that countermands her statements here. The majority of Americans, including pro-choice people, oppose late-term abortions as has been shown time and again by Gallup polls. O'Rourke doesn't believe in any restrictions on abortion, which means O'Rourke is out of touch with what the average American believes, even those on his side of the fence. If you believe in unrestricted abortion access for any reason, you are not simply pro-choice, you are pro-abortion. And while O'Rourke says he supports "safe and legal abortion access," he has dropped the word "rare" from that slogan, meaning that he doesn't even seem to have any moral qualms about abortion (why make it rare if there is nothing morally wrong with it?). Additionally, O'Rourke is not willing to work with the other side on this because he doesn't believe in any restrictions on abortion. Destiny's belief simply does not reflect reality.

The first sentence of her article states that she may have ruined her career with her vote for O'Rourke. If Destiny refuses to admit that she was wrong and recant her support for O'Rourke, then this incident should end her career as a pro-life leader. We should not have pro-life leaders who compromise their pro-life views by voting into office those who are dedicated to fighting tooth and nail to provide unlimited abortion services for women. I would hope that Destiny realizes the egregious error she's made and does the right thing.

[1] From Martin Luther King, Jr.'s address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Supreme Court’s Insidious History of Approving Injustice

The Supreme Court of the United States has an impressive record of condoning injustice. It was the Supreme Court that claimed that African Americans were not “persons”. It was the Supreme Court that affirmed the “separate but equal” facilities to keep blacks and whites separate. It was this court that declared that unborn human beings were not “persons” under the law, condemning millions of little humans to death by poison, crushing, burning, or dismembering.

If you read the legal texts of Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, etc., the reasons given for legalizing and justifying abortion hinge on an assumption that the unborn are not human like us and, therefore, warrant no protection under Constitutional law. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court used language to denigrate the unborn to a subhuman, “other” status. The legal opinions of these cases rendered by the justices support a worldview that holds that all human beings are not equal. In effect, the Court opinions say killing some people to achieve a selfish benefit is not always morally problematic. One of the justifications for this was that because some people disagree about when human life begins, the Court could not take a side regarding the “mystery of human life”. This “mystery of human life” is really not so much a mystery. The science of embryology is clear that the unborn are living, distinct, and whole human beings from the moment of conception. As Scott Klusendforf says, the absence of consensus does not mean that there is an absence of truth.

Imagine if these cases were decided to allow women to murder their inconvenient toddlers using the language of “potential life” and “mystery of human life” to relegate three year olds to a class of humans with no rights. Comparing the toddler to the unborn is a very useful tactic because it reveals a begging of the question. The immediate reaction from the pro-choice person is to say how the toddler is very different from the unborn human being. In response to that, ask the person what the relevant differences are between the unborn and the toddler that justifies killing one but not the other. The typical response is to point to the size, level of development, environment, or the degree of dependency of the unborn baby. If human beings have equal value, that worth must be grounded in something we all share equally. The value human beings possess comes from the fact that we are made in God’s image. We have been given a rational and relational nature that grounds our existence throughout time. Though many changes occur throughout human development, none of those developmental modifications increase the right to life. The basic human right to live cannot be contingent upon alterable characteristics for that would mean that the human right to live would vary from person to person. Our moral intuitions reject that.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey acknowledged that some people find abortion offensive to their morality but the Court concluded that that could not control their decision because that view should not mandate moral code. But they did in fact mandate a moral code-the very thing they claimed to avoid. The moral code they endorsed was that it was permissible to kill little human beings in the womb if they are unwanted.

Our laws in this country condemn and prevent people from harming and killing their animals in horrible ways. While you cannot torture your dog just because you don’t want him anymore nor can you kill an endangered species without facing jail time, you can walk into an abortion clinic and have your unborn baby torn apart in the name of “reproductive freedom”. Taking the life of an innocent human is granted under our laws in this country. This evil is so difficult to fight because you don’t see the dead babies and their body parts when you walk out your front door. The apathy that surrounds this injustice is appalling. Do not sit idly by while your unborn neighbor is being taken to the slaughter. We have all been made for such a time as this. The battle we face is one of life and death. Be on the side that chooses life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

“Vital” Health Services for Whom? Planned Parenthood Avoids the Only Question That Really Matters.

Planned Parenthood is responsible for over 300,000 abortions every year. That is a third of the nation’s abortions. 

Yet you would never know this listening to Planned Parenthood or its apologists in the main stream media.  Both would rather change the subject and that is exactly what happens every time this issue is brought up. You’ll get lectured about how poor people need Planned Parenthood's services and that without them, poor women will have nowhere to go for health problems. You’ll get lectured about the “many vital health services” Planned Parenthood offers and how abortion is only 3% of its activity. 

Do not believe this red herring. That three percent figure is misleading. An article in the abortion-sympathizing Washington Post doesn’t believe it either.

But suppose the 3% figure is true. 

What would that matter?

Since when do good deeds atone for bad ones? If the KKK provides free medical care to non-white women, does that make it a benevolent organization? 

The issue is not whether Planned Parenthood offers other services. They do. The issue is whether abortion violently and intentionally kills an innocent human being. Imagine a clinic that treated epilepsy and diabetes. In that same clinic, there’s a room where parents could take burdensome toddlers and have them euthanized. Suppose that clinic euthanized 300,000 children a year. Would anyone with a functioning conscience justify the clinic’s murdering toddlers by pointing to their “other services”?

Of course, Planned Parenthood and its defenders reply that toddlers and fetuses are not the same. But that’s precisely the issue isn’t it? If abortion does not intentionally kill an innocent human being, who cares if abortion is 3% or your business or 100% of your business? If abortion does intentionally kill an innocent human being, (and it does) then Planned Parenthood has got a lot of explaining to do.

Justifying abortion won’t be easy. The science of embryology confirms that you are identical to the embryo you once were. You’re the same being now as you were then. But in Planned Parenthood’s worldview, being human isn’t enough. You must also be a “person,” and embryos and fetuses fail the test. In other words, there’s a class of humans we can’t kill who are persons and another class we can kill who are not. 

There is no significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today.  It is not okay to pick on small humans who depend on us.

Planned Parenthood does not and cannot provide a serious defense of its position. Its apologists simply assume the unborn are not one of us.  But Planned Parenthood is not the arbiter of who is valuable and who is not.

We have a long history of ignoring the humanity of those we wish to exploit for our benefit. Slaves didn’t count because of their skin color. Women didn’t count because of their gender. Embryos and fetuses don’t count because of their size and dependency. Planned Parenthood and its supporters are just exchanging one form of discrimination for another and it is costing millions of lives.

When people spoke up against the evil of slavery, defenders of that injustice changed the subject and talked about how slavery “benefits society”, and assumed that the slave was not one of them. When abortion is brought up, PP talks about how women benefit from health services, that abortion is only “3%” of what it does, and that women need it to flourish. They assume the unborn is not one of them.

Which women need it to flourish? What about all the unborn women? What about their rights?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Book Review: Arguments About Abortion by Kate Greasley [Clinton Wilcox]

Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law is a book published in 2017 by Kate Greasley, a British lawyer. This book took me by surprise as I didn't hear about it until earlier this year. It also seems to have slipped under the radar, having only one review at the time of this review's writing on Amazon and none on Goodreads. However, I would say, without exaggeration, that Greasley's book is an important contribution to the discussion on abortion and for anyone who wants to understand this issue, this book is required reading. I read a lot of books by pro-life and pro-choice advocates. It's not often that a good pro-choice book comes along, one that not only makes a compelling intellectual and articulate case for the pro-choice position, but also interacts with the best of the pro-life academic literature on the topic. The best book defending abortion before this one was David Boonin's 2002 book A Defense of Abortion. Now I can place this book alongside Boonin's as one that anyone who wants to educate themselves on the issue must read.

Greasley's book is in three parts. In the first part, she examines arguments that try to show that the question of personhood is irrelevant to the abortion debate, including 1) Thomson's bodily autonomy argument justifies abortion whether or not the unborn are persons, 2) that abortion can be justified as an act of self-defense, and 3) Dworkin's "red herring" argument, that at the heart of the issue is not really personhood but that pro-life people believe that life is sacred and inviolable. Greasley interacts with these, and others, dispatching them, showing that these arguments do not justify abortion if the unborn are persons. So the personhood of the unborn is the central issue regarding whether or not abortion is moral. The second part of her book is where she makes her case that the unborn are not persons. The third part of her book talks about issues regarding abortion law and regulation.

I will not look at her arguments in part one since I agree with her position. I also won't look at her arguments in part three because they really depend upon her arguments in part two succeeding. So I will leave that up to the reader to follow up there. I do want to look at her arguments regarding personhood. I don't believe her arguments succeed in justifying abortion for the reasons that I give below.

While Greasley's case is intelligent and articulate, I believe that her case fails for one important reason: She interacts with some of the best pro-life thinkers, but she only interacts with two main views of personhood among pro-life advocates: substance dualism and animalism. She doesn't interact with hylemorphism, such as that held by Edward Feser. The reason that this is important is not just because she neglects to interact with a feasible account of personhood, so considering that she hasn't refuted it, her own argument that the unborn are not persons fails. But it's also important because the criticisms she raises against substance dualism and animalism are easily answered by hylemorphism. So it can give the impression that there are no good responses from pro-life advocates when in fact there are responses to these concerns already in the literature.

That being said, I'll address two of her main contentions in the book: that the unborn do not count as persons, and that pro-life personhood accounts also suffer from various amounts of arbitrariness.


Greasley takes the position that personhood is a gradual property, not an all-or-nothing one. Similar to Mary Anne Warren, she takes personhood attributes to be the fully realized, presently exercisable capacities that typical human adults exhibit. Human adults are our paradigm case for persons, and when you ask what capacities they possess that other creatures, which we don't consider persons, lack, these are things like rational thought, the ability to communicate, etc. These, of course, are gradually developing properties. But since early embryos lack these capacities, just like creatures who are non-persons lack them, they are not persons, either.

However, while personhood develops gradually, there is a definite point at which we should establish legal personhood, even if the unborn are not yet persons in the moral sense. She thinks that the unborn don't become persons in the moral sense until sometime after birth, but that we should establish birth as the point at which we establish personhood legally. So she would take personhood not to arrive at a certain threshold, which someone like David Boonin would take to be a set point, Greasley takes personhood to be a ranged property. A ranged property, she explains, is some arbitrarily determined point at which we will establish that all who meet these qualifications will be considered persons (paraphrased, p. 183). Regarding the fact that not all human beings who are born lack these personal properties that adults exhibit, she further explains, "[a]lthough human beings in general meet the condition, there are of course some individuals who fail entirely to realize that capacity or who realize it only to a minimal degree, perhaps as a consequence of some unfortunate defect or deprivation" (p. 183). In other words, some human beings may fail to exhibit the properties that adult humans exhibit which make them persons. But as long as they fall under the legally recognized range of personhood, they are persons, no matter how closely they resemble adults, the paradigm case. To even further explain the concept of a range, you might think of the state of California. Fresno and Blythe are both cities in California. Fresno is further into California than Blythe is, Fresno being in the center and Blythe being near the border to Arizona. But even though one city is clearly further inside California than the other, both are considered California cities because they are inside the state boundary.

Of course, Greasley recognizes that a possible retort is that this argument attempts to have it both ways, that personhood is binary (i.e. you're either a person or you're not) and that it supervenes upon properties which come in degrees. So the question is, why draw this line at birth instead of some other place? She offers the following as reasons that birth, rather than some other range, should be considered as the range property that establishes legal personhood. She considers an argument for legal or pragmatic interests, but considering that it has some unpalatable consequences (such as mentally handicapped people being legal persons only by "polite extension"), she presents arguments that this range is acceptable as morally necessary, as well.

1) Opacity respect -- Greasley considers that her argument might appear circular because it claims that there is a moral interest driving the specification of "person" as a ranged property, yet this moral interest exists only if all individuals within the range actually are persons. But this is what personhood accounts grounded in gradual properties seem to deny. So she introduces the concept of "opacity respect" as a way to try and ground an independent moral reason for focusing on the ranged property, one that is independent from a prior commitment to equality. Opacity respect, borrowing from Ian Carter, is simply that a respect for human equality requires maintaining a sort of blindness toward their individual capacities. We treat them as equals regardless of how developed their capacities are.

However, rather than avoiding the charge of circularity, this only pushes the problem back an extra step. As Calum Miller responds, either humans are morally equal or not. If they are not, then it is implausible that we are in any way required to treat them with respect. The only way we would need opacity respect is if they are already equal. (Calum Miller, "Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law Book Review", The New Bioethics, Vol. 24 No. 2, 2018, 190-195). So the charge of circularity stands.

2) Some arbitrariness in the law is unavoidable. Consider the seven month cut-off for prosecution of a serious criminal offense. This is an arbitrary limit set which permits some prosecutions which shouldn't be permitted and precludes some which ought to be permitted. Stipulating personhood at conception is unsatisfactory due to how far away those organisms are from the sorts of creature which exemplify personal properties, and putting the threshold at birth is not unacceptably arbitrary, as shown by the case of criminal prosecution. But the event of birth is favorable for several reasons: It is a highly visible event, it is not speculative, and it is an easy guideline with which to comply. By contrast, other milestones (those before and after birth) are less visible and easier to mistake or conflate with other events.

Now while it's true that birth is a highly visible event, this is hardly grounds for favoring birth over conception. After all, even though it's not visible like birth is, every embryo that implants itself in her mother's womb was conceived. The fact that we couldn't see it doesn't mean the event isn't significant.

Also, while birth is not speculative, it is not always safe for the unborn child. Unborn children should gestate for 40 weeks. A child born too prematurely faces developmental problems, if he even survives at all. Yet this argument seems to suggest that we can intentionally induce birth at any stage of development, and you haven't actually harmed the entity in question, despite now being born with developmental issues that you purposely caused. Additionally, while the date of conception may be speculative, the fact of conception is not. The fact that we can't accurately pinpoint the exact date of conception is not an argument against conception being the event that establishes personhood in an individual.

Finally, the fact that it is an easy guideline with which to comply is not grounds for establishing birth as the event which establishes personhood either. How is the threshold of birth easier to comply with than the threshold of conception? And what if the law is wrong? You might be killing entities which are actually persons for a weak justification, that birth is easier to comply with than conception. And while it may be easier to determine the date of birth than the date of conception, it is not out of the question to approximate the date of conception. Just because one is easier does not make the other illegitimate.

3) There are good reasons for favoring birth as the legal threshold for personhood over other thresholds. These reasons are: 1) Birth is a watershed event in the life of a human because "emergence into the world marks the beginning of a human's exposure to the objects of mental experience and enables the discriminations necessary for conscious self-awareness and the basic understanding of where we end and everything else begins" (Greasley, Arguments About Abortion, p. 194). 2) At the point of birth, the neonate attains separate embodiment in the world.

Regarding her first point, it's really meant more as a response to pro-choice philosophers who argue that there's no significant difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn. Greasley's point is that there are significant differences that aren't usually mentioned by these philosophers that show that we can support late-term abortion but oppose infanticide because of these changes. Now, Greasley's discussion here is interesting but ultimately I think she misses the point of the arguments by these philosophers (and gets some facts about the late-term fetus wrong). These philosophers don't necessarily claim that there are no differences at all, but in the way that is morally relevant (such as needing to be self-aware to have a right to life), there is no significant difference between the two. However, there is no real need to belabor the point or offer much of a response, since this is a point toward these other philosophers and not a general defense of her position. All I need to say is that even though her argument here makes sense in the context of arguing for abortion rights at birth rather than later, she is still placing one's personhood in a developmental milestone, so her argument is no more successful than Sumner's argument that sentience is what matters morally, or Tooley's argument that self-awareness is what matters morally.

Regarding Greasley's second point, it is still largely a response to the other pro-choice philosophers who might place personhood threshold in some other property (this is largely because she has dismissed the conception threshold out of hand with arguments that I will address below). In order to support her contention, she points to the existence of conjoined twins, using Abigail and Brittany Hensel, who are conjoined below the neck, as her example of such twins. She claims that despite there being two "separate and distinct little girls," each one having an independent mental life and personality, their connectedness diminishes their personhood because of things such as their inability to live the kind of life distinctive of persons.

She goes on to say that the fetus' attachment to the woman is more extreme than that of the Hensel girls, but she asks us to consider another pair of conjoined twins. This time one twin is completely enclosed within the other but still is bodily sustained and possesses a mental life. She claims that many of us would doubt that it is still correct to call this individual a person. She claims this shows that there is a level of enmeshment beyond which much of the meaning of personhood is lost.

The problem with Greasley's claim here is that she doesn't support it at all, merely pointing to what she thinks many of us would accept as a person. But why shouldn't we consider Greasley's second pair of twins both persons? I see no reason not to consider the enclosed twin a person, especially since my conception of person has to do with one's nature, not with the functions one can perform. Greasley offers no supporting arguments for her assertion besides the one I just addressed, so her argument is not a very strong one, especially considering how strong the arguments for personhood established at conception are.


Greasley refers to the idea that personhood comes into existence at one time "punctualism," as opposed to "gradualism," the idea that personhood is a property that comes on gradually through the development of some characteristic seen as morally relevant for personhood status. Greasley goes on later to critique arguments made by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen in their book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. I hold to a different account of personhood than George and Tollefsen do, and they can respond to Greasley's charges, if they wish to. I hold to hylemorphism, similar to that held by Ed Feser and David Oderberg, an idea that Greasley doesn't critique in her book. So I will respond to the arguments in her book which could be directed toward hylemorphism.

She trots out a few reductios against the idea that personhood is established at conception. I'm not going to address them here because they are in the context of giving an overview of the discussion within the abortion topic. She also trots out some reductios against personhood being established at other points along human development. Additionally, I have responded to these reductios elsewhere, as have other pro-life writers.

She then goes on to argue that the conception thesis is just as arbitrary as the other personhood criteria that pro-life people allege are arbitrary. She alleges there are three ways in which those who are punctualists are arbitrary: 1) In assigning our value in our species; 2) They don't treat like cases alike; and 3) Sorites-susceptibility.

First, the charge is that by placing personhood in one's humanity, we are being arbitrary because species membership is irrelevant to one's moral status. One might consider it not seriously wrong to abort a cat fetus, but a human fetus is no more sentient or intelligent than the cat fetus. The only main difference is its species. This is to arbitrarily prefer one species over another without reference to morally differentiating characteristics.

Now, Greasley does anticipate a possible objection to the arbitrariness charge. Biological humans are special because they possess the unique capacity for rationality and higher thinking, complex desires, etc., that are typical of adult human beings. However, Greasley says that this essentially just pushes the problem back a step. For the advocate of abortion rights can simply ask "Why is it that merely belonging to a biological species the typical adult members of which are capable of higher forms of thinking itself suffices for personhood status?" (emphasis hers)

Greasley's pro-life formulation is true as far as it goes, but she doesn't give the full argument. It's not simply that human embryos and fetuses belong to a species the typical adult members of which are capable of higher forms of thinking. It's that human nature is a rational nature. The reason that human embryos will grow up to be self-aware, conscious, etc., is because they have a rational nature, which grounds all of their capacities. So it's not just simply that they possess these capacities that they will develop in time, it's that they have a rational nature which grounds these capacities. This rational nature is what grounds our personhood. Since all of the changes I eventually undergo are changes that are within my nature (or my internal programming) to undergo, I remain the same entity through all points in my life. There is no substantial change that happens, even though I get bigger, I develop a brain and get smarter, etc. None of these things changes me from one thing into a completely different thing. Since I am the same individual through all points in my life, if I have a right to life as an adult, I had one as an embryo because our rights are intrinsic to us; they are not established by anything outside us.

Her second charge is that we are not treating like cases alike. If it is not seriously wrong to abort a cat fetus, then since human fetuses are like cat fetuses (in the sense given above), it is arbitrary, then, to claim that aborting human fetuses is seriously wrong. However, the response above will outline why this is not an adequate charge against punctualists. Cat fetuses and human fetuses are not alike. Cat fetuses lack a rational nature and human fetuses have a rational nature. It is the rational nature that makes it seriously wrong to kill you, not mere species membership. And as an aside, I don't think that necessarily justifies aborting cat fetuses, either, but that discussion is outside the scope of this review.

Her third charge of arbitrariness is that of sorites-susceptibility. The sorites paradox has been around for a few thousand years. It basically asks the following: If I add one grain of sand to another, I will not have a heap of sand. But add enough grains of sand and a heap will eventually materialize. At what point did the sand particles become a heap? Was it when you added the 400th sand particle? The 399th? What is the relevant difference in sand particles between a heap and a non-heap? There is no single grain in which it could be plausibly argued that that was the grain of sand that turned it into a heap. Yet we definitely do have a heap at some point. The implications this has for abortion is that pro-life advocates sometimes argue that there is no real difference between a human at one point (say, birth) and a human a few moments before birth. Even worse, there is no way to distinguish a late-term fetus a few minutes before birth and a few hours before birth, and so on.

Now, the problem with this kind of argument is that it does commit a logical fallacy -- the aptly named "fallacy of the heap". Just because we can't pinpoint when X occurs does not mean, necessarily, that X doesn't happen. This fallacy is also sometimes called the fallacy of the beard, because this example is used to illustrate it: We know what a clean-shaven face is and we know what a bearded face is. But just because we can't pinpoint how many hairs are necessary to be considered a beard (as opposed to merely stubble) does not mean we can't recognize a beard when we see it. So when we point to a personhood criterion, say sentience, just because we can't tell at exactly what point sentience arises, doesn't mean we can't know when something is sentient. So this is not an argument I would make, and I don't think any of the best Christian thinkers use that kind of argument, either (Greasley points to something Kaczor wrote in his book, but she's misunderstanding the point of Kaczor's argument).

However, Greasley forgoes the route of accusing pro-life people of arguing fallaciously and instead decides to argue that pro-life people can't escape the charge of arbitrariness here. She claims that describing conception as a "discrete, identifiable 'moment' is considerably misleading," and then she points to various stages and events that happen during fertilization in order for conception to occur. She asks questions such as, ""If penetration of the egg is the moment, how far must the sperm penetrate before a person exists, and why is any one of those microscopically distinct advances more significant than the adjacent ones?" and so on (Greasley, p. 115). However, her various questions don't show that conception is an event that is susceptible to the sorites problem. When a pro-life person makes this argument, he is speaking of a human being that is already in existence and trying to show that placing personhood at one exact moment is arbitrary (e.g. if you need brain activity, how much brain activity is needed to be considered a person?). But in the case of fertilization, you are going from non-human entities to a human entity. Fertilization is a process, yes, but it is not a process of sperm and egg becoming human and then the human continues from there. In the process of fertilization, the sperm and the egg literally cease to exist and give rise to a new human being, and that event definitely has a point of occurrence. When the woman's ovum ceases to exist and the new human zygote comes into existence, that is when conception finishes.

This review was rather long, but I felt it necessary to address several of the arguments Greasley made in her book. Again, Greasley's book is meticulously argued and is required reading for anyone who wants to keep up with the academic discussion on abortion. Her arguments don't succeed in justifying abortion, nor do her arguments show that a "punctualist" view of human personhood is mistaken.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Tomi Lahren Begs the Question on Abortion

Opposing unwelcome government intrusion into our daily lives includes supporting legal abortion, according to conservative spokeswoman Tomi Lahren.

Never a stranger to controversy, her recent comments defending her views about Roe vs. Wade and the legality of abortion in the United States on Fox and Friends do deserve an adequate response, as opposed to much of the name calling and personal attacks that are all too typical of political or social discourse today.

In a piece for her Fox News Column, “Final Thoughts”, Tomi Lahren states the following:

“I’m saying this as someone who would personally choose life, but also feels it’s not the government’s place to dictate. This isn’t a black and white issue and I would never judge anyone in that position. I believe the way to encourage someone to choose life is to treat her with compassion, understanding and love, not government regulation. Let’s be honest - the federal government does few things well, and I believe regulating social issues is an area where it fails. Let the churches, the non-profits, and the community groups step in, not almighty Uncle Sam.”

Many may remember the brief firestorm she created among pro-life conservatives after she asserted her pro-choice position during an appearance on the American talk show, “The View” in Spring 2017 to the glowing endorsement of the pro-choice Left, saying:

“You know what? I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well,” Lahren said.”

And I absolutely agree with her. We shouldn’t push for government to intrude in people’s decisions. We should leave individual families alone to deal with making the decision to choose an abortion. We should keep the government from interfering with a woman’s body.
I agree completely, if: The unborn are not human. If it so happens that the unborn are not human, then abortion is morally no big deal any more than plastic surgery is. Go ahead and have it.
However, if the unborn are in fact human beings, then we shouldn’t simply excuse the intentional killing of them in our laws any more than we would the killing of a newborn or even a toddler. This is where Ms. Lahren makes her mistake. She simply bypasses the question, “What are the unborn?” and proceeds directly to talking points that can fit into a short sentence.

For instance, would she say the same thing if the law allowed the killing of born children? Imagine a law was passed several decades ago that allowed parents to kill their unwanted children up to two years of age, and a Supreme Court Justice was nominated who expressly wanted to overturn such a law. Would Ms. Lahren object to this as well, saying that the question should be “left to the churches, community groups, and non-profits instead of the Almighty Uncle Sam”? I would hope that she had the moral clarity to say “no”.

For another example, if her neighbors were planning to kill one of their toddlers, would Ms. Lahren feel compelled to call on government authorities in the form of law enforcement and Child Protective Services to stop the killing? Or would she leave it up to the churches and non-profits, because “Government does few things well”. I think everyone, politically Right or Left, would consider this horrendous, not to mention absurd.

This raises a question: Then why not protect the unborn from being intentionally killed? Some might respond by saying that there is a significant difference, but ah! That is the question. What difference is there that makes them less worthy of our protection? She never offers an explanation, which means she has done what pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith calls “Begging the Question”; that is, assuming one’s position is true while trying to prove it. She doesn’t offer any arguments for her statements that the government should leave her alone when considering abortion, or the more broad assertion that the government cannot legislate effectively on moral issues. Most people who make this claim have no problem with the government banning murder, or sexual violence, or spousal abuse. They only make this claim about abortion because they simply assume that the unborn are not human, when that is precisely the question that must be resolved in the abortion debate.

If the unborn are human, just like the toddlers and newborns in the examples above, then they are just as worthy of protection from being intentionally killed as the toddler is. The question now becomes what relevant difference sets them apart from being protected in our society and legal system? As philosopher Stephen Schwarz points out in his book The Moral Question of Abortion, all of the differences between the born and the unborn fall into four categories that can be remembered with the "SLED" acronym:

  • Size: It’s true, the unborn are much smaller than the newborns or toddlers I mentioned in my hypothetical cases. But so what? How big does one have to be before they deserve to be protected from harm? As an adult man, I am bigger in my body size than many women, including Ms. Lahren, but it is odd to say that this grants me special protections from harm. If anything, it seems the smaller someone is, the more effort we should put towards protecting them.
  • Level of Development: Yes, the unborn are not as developed as the born are, and can’t do everything a born person can. But why does that determine whether we can kill someone or not? As another hypothetical, imagine I have two sisters, aged 6 and 18. They do have differences in their development. The older sister is more developed mentally, is more developed physically(she may play a college level sport) and is mature sexually. Her six year old sister possesses none of that, but it would be insane to assert that she is less deserving of our efforts to keep her safe. If level of development between two born humans doesn’t matter, why should it matter when protecting unborn humans?
  • Environment: During her appearance on “The View”, Tomi stated that the government needs to “stay out of her body”. This can be fairly reasonable; after all, who wants a nosy bureaucrat from Washington performing exploratory surgery against one’s will? However, this misses the point. Given that the unborn is located inside one’s body, does this really matter as to whether they can be killed whenever it suits our immediate needs? How does one's current environment determine the most basic protections from harm they are entitled to?
  • Degree of Dependency: Yes, it is true. The unborn are far more dependent on their mothers for their very lives before birth. Again, what exactly does this prove? Why should anyone accept that those who have reached a certain degree of physical independence from their mothers are the only ones deserving of legal protections from being killed? This raises another question: What degree of independence should we go with in attributing protections? As the Roe court ruled, before fetal viability(The time when an unborn human can live outside the womb) the government has no interests in protecting prenatal life. This may seem reasonable to some, but why is viability the marker of who can be protected or not? Why didn't the court rule that babies who need additional medical care after birth don't merit a "state interest"? Or how about children who can't walk without any assistance yet? Or children who cannot ride their bikes without "training wheels"? They are still remotely dependent on adult support, so why isn't that the degree of who deserves protection? It seems that dependency is a poor way of determining who gets to live and die.

Tomi Lahren's assuming of the unborn not being human needs to be called out, clearly and concisely. By asserting that conservatives need to move on past Roe vs. Wade so that the nation won't shift Left in it's politics, she is saying that millions of lives simply don't matter enough to warrant our protection. The American conservative wishes to protect the values that were put in place when the United States was being founded, not shift away from them when votes are on the line.
That means the unborn are worth every ounce of our efforts to protect them in law, and conserve what the American founders saw as “...truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Responding to Back Alley Logic Butchers

We are living through a zombie apocalypse of sorts, rhetorically speaking. Old arguments that should have died long ago in light of solid responses keep finding new life in the "blogosphere" and on social media, especially with abortion finding its way back into the public dialogue due to recent events in Ireland and the United States.

Common among these arguments is the claim that pro-life legislation will lead to scores of dead women. From "back alley butcher" statements to feminists protesters waving coat hangers at rallies, to claims that thousands of women will die if abortion is made illegal, the argument is, like a horror movie zombie, still coming around. Even some college professors(Who really ought to know better) have repeated these sound bites.

Ironically absent these cries of supposed fear is any real rebuttal to the pro-life argument:

Premise 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

Premise 2: Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being.

Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

As philosopher Chris Kaczor points out, questions about women's health and abortion are indeed important, but they still fail to settle the question of the moral admissibility of the act of abortion itself. Do we have any obligations to protect innocent human beings before birth in society and our law? Or can we dispose of them whenever their existence becomes a burden upon us? Philosopher Mary Anne Warren, herself an advocate of abortion, is in agreement; highlighting that murder is wrong regardless of the social consequences of prohibiting it.

This raises a question: Should the law protect the innocent from being intentionally harmed, even though some may be unintentionally killed as a result? Consider that some have been killed accidentally by unsuspecting family members when entering their own residence late at night, being mistaken for a burglar. This is undoubtedly a major tragedy, especially for the family. But does it logically follow that the moral position a society should take is to legalize armed burglary so that no one accidentally dies in this manner?

For another example, should armed robbery(stealing items off a person directly) be made legal so that no one gets accidentally shot by an overly nervous, trigger happy pedestrian walking through a high crime part of town? This is also a tragedy, but it is going to be really hard to argue that this is grounds for abolishing laws against robbery.

Aside from the logical mistakes, there is an honesty question that needs to be asked of our critics: If pro-lifers were to propose a law that restricted abortion but also made sure that no woman had to seek out a "back alley butcher", would our critics then join us in opposing abortion? Some may say yes, but many will still retort that "Abortion is a fundamental right." Ah, but that is the question at hand. Abortion is only a fundamental right if it is a moral act, and it is only a moral act if the unborn are not human. That needs to be argued for, and not simply asserted. This goes for everyone, on Twitter and in the academy.

One last point on the topic, those who raise the concern of women dying from illegal abortions do have some explaining to do. By what basis do we know that "[abolishing abortion] will be a death sentence for thousands of women", as the Women's March responded to the nomination of a pro-life Supreme Court Justice recently? Very often there is little to no support provided for the claim. As the late Dr. Bernard Nathanson(a former abortionist) points out, there is very little support to back up the claim:

"How many deaths were we talking about when abortion was illegal? In N.A.R.A.L., we generally emphasized the drama of the individual case, not the mass statistics, but when we spoke of the latter it was always "5,000 to 10,000 deaths a year." I confess that I knew the figures were totally false, and I suppose the others did too if they stopped to think of it. But in the "morality" of our revolution, it was a useful figure, widely accepted, so why go out of our way to correct it with honest statistics? The overriding concern was to get the laws eliminated, and anything within reason that had to be done was permissible." (Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., Aborting America (New York: Pinnacle Books, 1979), 193)
While more can be said about the actual data on the number of deaths from illegal abortions in the pre-Roe years( Abort73 has a good list of sources, which can be found at Also see Erika Bachiochi's The Cost of Choice: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion)

The purpose of the objection itself needs to be questioned. Are those who raise it doing so out of an emphasis on truth, or as a means of fear-mongering in an already tense political climate? With women dying even during the era of legal abortion in the United States at the hands of men like Kermit Gosnell, it should be obvious that those who truly care for the needs of American women would be willing to consider all the implications of legal abortion today, not just the immediate emotions that all too often drive cultural debates.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Definition That Just Won't Die

They are onto us. We've finally been made. People who oppose the intentional killing of innocent human beings in the womb are mean, nasty, rich, and don't give a rip about starving or homeless children. We aren't pro-life unless we feed starving kids or give them shelter.

How do I know? Because a meme like this one said so.

Question for Ms. Isabel: And the problem is what exactly? Let's suppose pro-life people are mean, nasty, fetus freaks who don't give a rip about starving kids like pictured above. How does that entail that the unborn are not human, and we may do with them as we please, including intentionally kill them?

It doesn't follow logically at all. The pro-life movement is arguing that it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion does that. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

An honesty question is in order when the assertion that pro-lifers only care about the unborn is made: If pro-lifers were to devote an equal amount of time to feeding and housing born children in a bad circumstance, would our opponents join us in opposing abortion? If they say no, then they have simply trotted out suffering children in order to score rhetorical points against their opponents. Chances are, if those opposed to abortion were to take responsibility for ending every social evil under the sun before focusing on abortion, our opponents would find another reason to excuse it.

Setting aside the fact that pro-lifers do actually care about the born and the unborn, which becomes obvious if one is willing to take an honest look, the humanity of the unborn is a question that has to be resolved regardless of how nice pro-lifers are. Even if pro-life people were the meanest, cruelest, most fanatical people on the planet, it still would not follow that we could justifiably end the life of an unborn child. That has to be argued for, and not merely asserted.

 Saying that pro-lifers need to do more in order to be taken seriously is dishonest and a foolish attempt to change the subject. Until our opponents use the science of embryology to show that the unborn are not human, or moral reasoning to show that we have no duty as a society to value them, then nothing has been accomplished by pointing to other issues that are arguably not as urgent in scope or in nature.